There isn't a unit on this Patriots team that has sustained more losses due to injury than the defensive line. It has been severely hampered without Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, who was recently placed on injured reserve.
The Patriots have countered by installing two rookies, Joe Vellano and Chris Jones, as their defensive tackles before trading for veteran nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga. Sopoaga made his debut in Week 9.
Vellano, who came on for Wilfork in Week 5 after he was injured against the Cincinnati Bengals, has improved steadily each week. But he's not asked to do much, mostly holding gaps and stuffing the run, which he has done well. He has 33 combined tackles and a sack.
Chris Jones, who has six sacks after making his first appearance in Week 4, has had a much tougher time against the run, getting pushed out of space while allowing for extra yardage from opposing running backs. It's probably no secret that Chris Jones' struggles inside forced the Patriots to deal for Sopoaga to shore up a defense that is giving up 128.2 yards per game, third worst in the league. That's a far cry from where the team started in the first quarter of the season when Wilfork and Kelly were available.
The bright spot has been defensive ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich. Chandler Jones has 50 tackles and 8.5 sacks this season, on pace for 15.5 sacks this year. Ninkovich, who was banged up in Week 9, has 45 tackles, three sacks, and two forced fumbles. Between the two defensive ends, the Patriots have done well to hold the edges against their opponents. Both have been given expanded duties as the season has progressed, standing up and dropping back into coverage as 3-4 outside linebackers. While the defensive tackles struggle at times just to hold the gaps, these two have been able to bring the pressure and hold the line as every down players.